Calgary airport hosts tearful reunion for Afghan refugees: ‘My family is free’

Click to play video: '‘My family is free’: Calgary airport hosts tearful reunion for Afghan refugees'
‘My family is free’: Calgary airport hosts tearful reunion for Afghan refugees
WATCH: Hundreds of refugees touched down in Calgary Friday on a chartered flight from Afghanistan. After a warm Calgary welcome, many are carrying on to destinations across Canada. But about 40 of them will now call Calgary home -- and on this International Women's Day their arrival can't come soon enough. Sarah Offin explains – Mar 8, 2024

At the international arrivals gate at Calgary International Airport, Ahmadullah Yaqoobi paced back and forth Friday morning, carrying three bouquets of flowers.

“For one daughter, another… and this is for my wife,” he beamed.

He hasn’t seen his family since his sudden departure from Afghanistan about three years ago.

As a government worker, he was one of over 40,000 refugees fleeing violence under the Taliban takeover in 2021. His youngest daughter was only ten days old.

“(They) told me you can bring your family after three months, four months…” said Yaqoobi.  “But I don’t have a choice because Afghanistan, for me, was very difficult.”

Click to play video: 'Calgarians who lived and worked in Afghanistan raise awareness about Taliban'
Calgarians who lived and worked in Afghanistan raise awareness about Taliban

One by one, 333 refugees stepped through the international gates around 8 a.m. Yaqoobi arrived hours before.

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The newcomers were greeted by Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, offering immediate medical support, food and shelter to the tired travelers.

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About 40 of the new arrivals will stay in Calgary, while the rest move on to destinations across Canada.

“Housing is still the number one challenge because of the crisis we are facing in Calgary,” said Fatima Mansouri, the resettlement assistant program manager with CCIS.

“I would say because of the experience we have and the relationship we established with some management companies and landlords over the years, I feel confident that in a timely manner we can find accommodation for all the clients.”

In honour of International Women’s Day, CCIS is also handing out flowers for women and daughters. It’s an offer of hope, respect and the promise of a new beginning in a country where their rights, voices and contributions are valued and celebrated.

“Over the years, any refugee that comes to a new country is to ensure safety for their family,” said Mansouri. “But also, education is the main reason for a lot of people.”

“In Afghanistan, daughters don’t go to school,” added Yaqoobi. “Now, my daughter coming here can go to school.

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And happy is likely an understatement to describe this tearful reunion. Yaqoobi ran to meet his wife and daughters as they exited the gate, for a long-awaited embrace.

His newborn daughter is now three. The other is six. Both are eager to start life as a family with a bright Canadian future.

Click to play video: 'Refugees from Afghanistan begin to arrive in Edmonton and Calgary'
Refugees from Afghanistan begin to arrive in Edmonton and Calgary

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